What’s it named after? This is a Grade II listed building, and was originally the showroom for early car builder John Clayton Beadle, who first went into business making horse-drawn vehicles. During World War II, Beadles produced parts for Sunderland flying boats from this site. The firm sold its manufacturing arm in 1957, but remains a well-known car dealer across Kent and south London. The building was converted into a pub in 1998, with Wetherspoon opening it as the Flying Boat in 2009.
What’s the carpet like?
Here’s the one where we bend the rules slightly. Dartford isn’t south east London. It’s in Kent. But we couldn’t help wondering whether we should head into the Darent valley. After all, you can use your Oyster card to get there, and it’s hardly a million miles away.
Then we saw a tweet from Kay raving about The Flying Boat. So that’s why we find ourselves two miles beyond zone 6 at 6pm, wandering along a high street almost deserted except for idling cars, their drivers pumping crap into the air while waiting to give shop staff a lift home.
The 21st century has been terrible for Dartford. The Bluewater shopping complex and an ill-fated property deal with Tesco drained the life out of the town. In 2012, GlaxoSmithKline closed the old Borroughs Wellcome drugs factory, with the loss of 600 jobs.
Even JD Wetherspoon lost some faith in the town. The cosy-looking Paper Moon, down the east end of the high street, shut its doors for the final time on Valentine’s Day 2016. When it opened in 1994, it even featured in the firm’s annual report. Now it lies boarded up and silent, still awaiting a buyer. We pay our respects and move on.
Decline needn’t be terminal. Dartford is fighting back. “Love Dartford” direction pillars show off the town’s famous names – it’s a surprise that there isn’t an industry of its own around Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ early years in the town. The Orchard Theatre remains in rude health – treating us to a big Full Monty poster.
Some of the buildings are beautiful, if in need of a little care. A former Art Deco Co-op, shut for years, sits empty opposite an old cinema that’s become a unfortunate-looking church.
That’s where The Flying Boat comes in. Dartford’s surviving Spoons is beautiful. And it’s certainly well cared for. Saved from being a rotten Litten Tree outlet, this early car showroom has been sensitively restored. There are extremely high ceilings, huge windows, beautiful lighting and lovely furniture.
You should come to zone 8 (zone 8!) to have a look. It’ll knock your socks off. You can even buy prints of it.
And while the high street is dead – and the other pubs alongside it seem to be doing poorly – the Flying Boat is busy. It’s very blokey, with loads of 60-something Kentish Men dominating the centre of the pub and laughing heartily. Not so many Kentish Maids, mind, but there are mixed groups dotted around by the windows.
We wonder what it’d be like – and what the crowd would be like – if we came during the day, with the daylight streaming through the windows.
Mirrors behind the bar make this huge hall feel even bigger. There’s a quiet back room with plush curtains, and even the ubiquitous JD Wetherspoon fruit machines are tucked away discreetly. You can see why the Paper Moon went so the firm could concentrate on the Flying Boat.
The service from the bar manager is really friendly, but the beers on offer are a bit limited given the size of the place – it’s the London Beer Festival, and the Wimbledon Brewery’s Copper Leaf Ale is a relief after an ill-advised pint of Hops’n’Heat.
The usual Spoons history boards are in place by the entrance doors, showing the building used as a roller-skating rink in 1910 and Winston Churchill addressing crowds. (Tonight, the pub TVs are showing Donald Trump, and thousands demonstrating against him.)
Up by the toilet, another board celebrates the Dartford Warbler (also known as the Furze Wren, the name of the Flying Boat’s nearest sister pub in Bexleyheath) and a band called the “Rollin’ Stones”.
There’s a crucial element to the Flying Boat that makes it work – the carpet. Imagine a huge hall with high ceilings and a hard floor. It’d feel draughty and echo horribly. For an example of this, visit the Woolwich Equitable, near The Great Harry, at the other end of the 96 bus route from here. But the Flying Boat’s carpet keeps the noise low and makes the pub feel welcoming.
As the evening goes on, the crowd gets a bit younger, and a lot younger by 8pm, when a few more women start to make their presence felt.
We’re glad we paid this pub a visit. Heaven knows what this is like on a Saturday night, mind you – a glance at some of the other high street bars suggests the area might get a bit lively, to say the least.
This should be a grand town, but at least Dartford has a grand Spoons in the Flying Boat.